ATLANTA — When Doug Fister faced the Braves last week at Nationals Park, he threw seven scoreless innings, his best outing of the season. His results have been somewhat skewed by the forearm tightness he battled in May, which eventually pushed him to the disabled list. For much of this year, with velocity down and pitches up, he was not pitching like the groundball guru who led the Nationals in ERA last season.
He did not pitch like that Doug Fister last week, either. Though he relied on the sinker he is known for — he threw it 53 percent of the time — he induced nearly twice as many flyball outs as groundouts. At times in his career, that ratio has been reversed. In 2013, for example, he induced 2.23 ground balls for every fly ball out. Such is his style.
Nearly 50 percent of balls put in play against Fister in his career have been ground balls and 30 percent fly balls. Last Thursday, more than 50 percent of balls put in play against him were fly balls, 25 percent grounders. So far this season, the ratio is nearly an uncharacteristic 1-to-1.
“He’s been working on some things, trying to get back to mechanics he had a little while ago,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “We’d love to get some more ground balls, but the last time out, he threw really well. We always want ground balls, but we just want outs.”
According to Brooks Baseball, Fister has thrown 44 percent of his pitches in the lower fifth of the zone this season, which is actually more than his career average and more than he threw there in 2014 (17 percent). Hitters are hitting .324 against those pitches. Perhaps because they are getting more pitches down in the zone, hitters are hitting more fly balls against pitches in that region than those he throws them in any other. All of the fly balls hit against him last week against the Braves came on pitches in the lower fifth of the zone.
According to Brooks Baseball, his sinker is diving as much as ever — more than at some points last season — and his pitches are showing the about the same amount of lateral movement. He is throwing about a mile per hour slower this season. While he was on the disabled list, he worked on returning to mechanics from more successful times in his career, which he said should help him send the sinker down in the zone more consistently. It landed there often last week, but the usual ground balls did not follow. Regardless, in his second he pitched seven scoreless innings, getting bad contact in the air, instead of bad contact on the ground.
“When you locate, make pitches in the zone, he’s kind of deceptive with his arm angle anyway,” McCatty said. “They just don’t see it. It plays a little firmer [faster] at times than what they think. We’d all like him to see get more ground ball outs, but we’ll take outs any way we can get them.”
Fister faces the Braves again Wednesday night at Turner Field.